TO: Owners of the NFL and NBA
This is not the time to strike or lockout!
By Bill Smith
There is a famous saying that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That is not correct in all cases. In the case of the NFL and the NBA that face expiration of player master contracts in the next couple of years, let me restate it.
“Those that fail to learn from history are just doomed!” Smith, 2009
Both the leagues must learn from the examples of the NHL and MLB how devastating strikes or lockouts can be to their survival.
The case of MLB in 1994
In 1993, MLB had a total attendance of 70,257,938 a 26 percent increase over 92 and the best in league history. In the 5 years from 83-88 the league had averaged an increase of 3.3 percent per year. From 89-93 the league enjoyed an average increase of 5.5 percent per year. Teams like Montreal that had struggled for years were starting to show improvement. The game seemed fine but according to both the players association and the owners the economics were not.
The owners had forced then MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign in September 1992. They replaced him with an owner, Bud Selig.
The owners stated publicly the case for a salary cap similar to the one in the NFL. They claimed that small market teams would go bankrupt unless a salary cap and revenue sharing was implemented. The players distrusted the owners with good reason. The league had been found guilty of collusion and was forced to pay $280 million in reparations.
Despite President Clinton trying to intervene to prevent a strike, the two sides threw unrelated proposals back and forth doing more negotiating in the press than face to face. The players voted to strike and on Aug. 12, 1994 walked out. The rest of the season was lost including the World Series.
Attendance in 1995 which was 144 games instead of 162 was down 28% from 93. The total attendance did not recover to 1993 levels until 1998. The growth rate of 5.5 percent per year was not seen again. In fact the total growth between 1995 and 2005 was 6.6%.
We now know that the era of the live ball was being replace by the era of “juiced” ballplayer. After all that, the owners folded before they got a salary cap or any meaningful revenue sharing. Somehow the luxury tax does not replace either of those principles.
The case of the NHL
You may remember fondly the ESPN coverage of the NHL. Real hockey fans may remember less fondly the Fox coverage with glowing pucks and battling hockey robots. But at least that was coverage most people could see.
The agreement that ended the 94-95 lockout of players expired on Sept. 15, 2004. The owners led by Commissioner Gary Bettman wanted an agreement including salary structure linking player salaries to league revenues to provide cost certainty. From 2002, the league and the players association (NHLPA) negotiated. But failing to reach agreement, the owners locked out the players on Sept. 16, 2004.
To the surprise of no one, the NHLPA and executive director Bob Goodenow didn’t believe the league numbers and refused to budge on the “cost certainty” issue. Both sides tried to negotiate in the press but according to a poll of Canadian fans conducted by Ipsos-Reid, the owners were more successful than the players at getting their point across to the public. 52 percent of the fans blamed the players while only 21% blamed the owners. 17 percent said a pox on both of your houses.
The league lost the entire 2004-05 season but the agreement finally reached did not solve any of the problems and caused several others. Attendance, the life blood of the league went down following the second strike in 10 years and is still recovering in some markets. The biggest blow was the loss of the ESPN TV contract. Following the stoppage, ABC/ESPN passed on the opportunity to bid on covering the league.
The NHL had their 2008-09 all star weekend broadcast by their new network—Verses. I pay 80 dollars a month for Dish and Verses is not part of my package. Enough said.
If you are going to risk the future of the league with a strike or a lockout, make sure it is worth it. Stick it out as long as it takes to get what you need to survive.
The owners in the NFL can not survive with guaranteed player contracts. They must prevent that to make a lockout worth while. If the owners are not willing to stick together to get that done, forget the lockout, play 2 extra regular season games and do the deal with the players.
The NBA needs to either eliminate guaranteed contacts (not likely) or get a hard salary cap based on a % of total revenues of the league. If you’re not willing to do what it takes to get that from the players, forget the lockout.
While the players make great salaries, they will not stick together for an extended period. They need the income to support their life styles. The owners are lacking backbone as well. We will see who blinks first.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .
My email is [email protected]